Selectmen Reaffirm Referral of Old Greenwich School Renovation to Planning & Zoning

At Thursday’s Selectmen the board voted unanimously to “reaffirm” their support for a referral of the Old Greenwich School Municipal Improvement.

The school renovation project MI had already been referred to the Planning & Zoning Commission back in April with a unanimous vote of 3-0.

But it was back to be “reaffirmed” Thursday after special counsel for the town John Wetmore issued a memorandum about the MI process at the end of August.

In it, Wetmore advised that a preliminary site plan should accompany the Municipal Improvement referral application to the Board of Selectmen. When it went before the Selectmen in April, that was not included.

At Thursdays meeting, James Waters, chair of the OGS building committee meeting, gave a snapshot of where the project stood.

While there are entrance doors at ground level that give the impression of accessibility, just inside there is a choice of descending 5 steps or ascending 12. Feb 3, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Waters gave a recap of the project timeline, noting that the since April, the committee had proceeded to spend money based on that referral.

To date the committee has have submitted all required materials including their MI application and site plan application.

The are on the Oct 3 Planning & Zoning commission agenda (see items 5 and 6).

In August, the P&Z commission responded favorably to the preliminary site plan.

Waters reviewed the building committee’s progress since April. In June, completed the schematic design process which was accompanied by two  reconciled and independent estimates. They also made some proposed revision to the projects ed specs.

All votes on the building committee have been unanimous to date, which Waters said were a credit to the collaborative and constructive nature of all members of the committee.

In June the Board of Education unanimously supported the schematic design and revisions to the ed specs.

Historic postcard of the original Old Greenwich School does not feature the grand staircase.That was added in the 1990s. The original school had a smaller set of stairs. Image courtesy Greenwich Historic District Commission

Asked what the changes to the ed specs were, Waters said there was additional ADA work required to become compliant. He noted the complaint filed with Office for Civil Rights was subsequent to the drafting the ed specs, which required some tweaks.

Second, additional abatement was identified based on their diligence.

Also, the original ed specs for the classroom building addition were decreased from about 10,000 sq ft to about 7,300 sq ft.

One-story, 4-classroom addition to the rear of the building.

Lastly he explained that to do a phased, occupied renovation, and avoid busing students to an alternate location, and not impact learning, there were additional necessary measures that involved some costs.

“You’ve got to isolate an area, wall it off, work on it, and clean it. That involves some costs that were not originally incorporated into the ed specs,” Waters said.

Continuing his recap of steps leading up to Thursday, he said the Board of Education had also unanimously supported the project estimates approved them to go before the BET to seek construction funds.

He said unfortunately, the BET rejected construction funds for Old Greenwich School.

“The main things floated were ideas that would violate the ed specs, and contradict what the community has told us they want,” he said.

He said since then, over the summer they submitted the BOE approved schematic design to the US Dept of Education Office for Civil Rights.

“There is a resolution agreement about the lack of ADA accessibility at Old Greenwich School. We provided an anticipated timeline for bringing the building into full compliance, as we are required to do, and we highlighted various scenarios for when that might occur based on when the BET might decide fund the project,” Waters said. “We have not heard if the Office for Civil Rights will take action to expedite the process, but the building committee and school district have fulfilled our obligations to this point.”

Waters said the building committee had also proceeded with the design development process, which they anticipate completing by the end of the year. He described that as an in-depth process which gets more into the details of  design, in preparation for construction documents.

Third, he said they worked to get ready for the MI application and preliminary site plan application.

“This is a huge lift, and was only made possible by the professionals we hired, who showed true teamwork over the summer,” he said.

To date, Waters said they had spent or encumbered approximately $400,000, and with a lot of in depth work continuing, they expect their A&E funding to run out by the beginning of 2024.

“As you know, the BET placed three conditions on the additional $1.086 million in A&E funding which members of this board helped us secure – thank  you, but two of these conditions are fully in control of the BET. The third is related to what I’m here for, which is MI status,” he said.

Waters warned if the project does not get through P&Z and the BET does not make progress on satisfying the conditions it controls, the committee anticipated the project would run out of funding in early 2024.

“This would mean all work would stop after spending $1 million of taxpayer dollars, and the project would be delayed at least two years, likely at an additional cost of $5 to $6 million.”

He said the building committee had hosted seven public forums on the project.

“People appear to like the direction we are heading and want to get this project done,” Waters said.

First Selectman Fred Camillo said the renderings looked beautiful and appreciated that the plan maintained the character of the historic building, and kept children in the building during the renovation rather than busing them or putting them in modular classrooms.

The board voted unanimously to again refer the application for MI status to Planning & Zoning.

Rendering of the front of a renovated Old Greenwich School without the grand staircase

See also:

BOE May Hire Attorney for Second Opinion on Wetmore ‘Section 99 Memo’ Delaying CMS Timeline
Sept 9, 2023

Old Greenwich School Community Kicks Off the Year with a Community Walk around Tod’s Point 
Aug 31, 2023

P&Z Watch: Feedback Positive on Old Greenwich School Renovation
Aug 9, 2023

BET’s “Ugly, Messy Conversation” on Discontinuing OGS Independent Cost Estimator Project
July 18, 2023

BET Republicans Turn Down Old Greenwich School Interim Appropriation, Favor New School  June 23, 2023

Town Lines up to Push Old Greenwich School Renovation Forward…What will the BET do?
June 20, 2023

With Blessing from Selectmen, OGS Building Committee to Proceed to P&Z with Pre-Application in May: “Every Week Counts”
April 13, 2023

Building Committee “Moving with Purpose” on Renovation Plans for Iconic Old Greenwich School
March 25, 2023

Disappointment Echoes as Major Renovation at Old Greenwich School Deferred to FY25 
Feb 3, 2023